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How can one word change the opinion and behavior of the reader. About the power of metaphor

Crime is the beast that ravages the city of Addison. The crime rate in this once peaceful town has steadily increased over the last three years. In 2017, 46 177 crimes were reported, and in 2018 – 55,000. What should Addison do to reduce crime?

If, after reading these few sentences, you decided that in the city of Addison you should more effectively pursue criminals, punish them more severely and lock them more often in prisons, this answer did not necessarily follow your views. The reason may be completely different.

However, before I reveal it, think about what wording in the text prompted you to make such a diagnosis

Could the increase in crime from 46 177 to 55 000?

Well, probably not.

Your answer may have been related to one word. Beast.

Metaphor crime is the beast that appears in the first sentence could affect how you decided to solve the problem.

You did not even pay attention to the word? It all the more proves that it affected you.

Do you want to change the world? Change the metaphor

In one study participants, divided into two groups, received versions of the text, which differed only in one word in the first sentence. So it was: Crime is the beast that ravages the city of Addison or Crime is the virus that ravages the city of Addison.

On the basis of the text, they had to perform several tasks, eg to present a solution to the problem or collect information about the proposed method.

Participants who read that crime is a beast, more often suggested more severe punishments (71% of answers) than those who learned that crime is a virus (54%). The latter suggested that one should investigate the causes of crime, educate society or fight poverty.

The difference was more than twice as high as that resulting from gender or political preferences. The persuasive metaphor has such a huge strength. The words of Joseph Campbell summarize perfectly: “If you want to change the world, change the metaphor“.

To harness the raging beast, you must catch it and lock it in a cage. The association with a dangerous animal means that we intend to treat criminals in a similar way.

In turn, the spreading virus should be diagnosed, and therefore reforms should be introduced to eliminate the causes. This time, the association with the disease causes that we are inclining towards preventive actions.

The authors of this study conducted a series of experiments. In one of them metaphors were accompanied by suggestive verbs. And yes, the wild beast lurked on the inhabitants, and the virus tormented them. However, the pictorial language was unnecessary. The word beast or a virus was enough to achieve the same effect.

In another experiment, the participants had to find synonyms for the word beast or virus, and then read the texts about the town of Addison, in which there was no metaphor. This time, the beast and the virus did not have any impact on the proposed solutions. This proves that metaphors are effective only if we weave them into a narrative.

And in what place of the text should a metaphor be put to make it the strongest influence?

Researchers assumed that it was close to completion. The metaphor at the end of the text would activate the associations when the participants proposed a solution. However, it did not happen.

Only the metaphors that appear at the beginning of the text shape our view of the problem. They give the frame of a later speech.

There are three important conclusions from the study.

First of all, metaphors affect not only how we think, but also how we solve problems and where we are looking for information. Thus, they model not only understanding, but also reasoning.

Second, human views on such complex problems as crime are not permanent or certain. You can change them using a metaphor.

The third application was considered the most surprising by the researchers.

Well, we do not realize that metaphor has an impact on us. When the respondents were asked why they proposed a solution, they were convinced that statistical data determined this.

Why do metaphors have such power?

To think is to connect – that is the title of the chapter of the book Cialdini’s. Metaphor is so persuasive because it affects how we interpret the relationship between things.

Mental operations are based primarily on unprocessed associations and there is no escape from them – writes Robert Cialdini. – Just as amino acids can be called the building blocks of life, such associations can be defined as the building blocks of thoughts.

Language serves not only to describe reality, but also affects the recipient, which according to some researchers is his main task. Often, unconsciously and without bad intentions, we direct the recipient’s attention to areas that are to evoke associations that favor our position.

Suppose you want to convince your friend to go to the cinema with you for a historical film, although you know that she does not like this genre. So you pay attention to other advantages of the movie: “draws from the first minute” or “has a beautiful musical setting”. Negative attitude to historical issues may be changed by a well-chosen metaphor, eg “this movie is a journey in time”.

You direct associations to a selected fragment of reality. When this succeeds, this fragment will be in the center of attention of the friend. And associations will affect her reactions.

The metaphor successfully controls associations, because by definition it is the transfer of the name of one thing to another. “Old age is like life, like evening to day; so we can call the evening the old age, and the old age of life. “- this is the example of metaphor Aristotle gave in the Poetics.

However, contrary to what Aristotle wrote, metaphor is not only an ornament but a basic part of language. And, importantly, colloquial language. Apparently we use one metaphor for the 25 words we say. In everyday speech, portable and literal language is intertwined.

We formulate metaphors in our minds.

“When our mind meets with something new, it behaves as if it were asking a question:” Have I been dealing with something similar before? “This is the natural mechanism for creating metaphors,” write Lakoff and Johnson in Metaphors in our life.

Therefore, it is a good idea to use a metaphor to explain intricate issues to specialist texts. Chris Anderson used the long tail metaphor to visualize the business model. He showed in this way that a larger turnover can be achieved on single, niche positions than on popular, mass products.

Of course, the metaphor has its limitations as it is far from precise. When someone says that he has reached the wall, he presents his weakness as something independent of himself. In the meantime, he was able to wrap himself.

When you want to convince the reader something, carefully choose a metaphor and place it as close as possible to the beginning of the text to serve as a frame. Be careful, however, that the power of the metaphor should work in your favor, and not control the associations in a direction that you did not intend to take.

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